The lack of housing availability and affordability in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area is beginning to affect the job market. — Lauren Collins photo

Housing problem hits Parksville Qualicum Beach

Lack of local housing affecting job market

It’s no secret there is a housing problem throughout major centres in the province, but that problem has slowly been making its way to Parksville Qualicum Beach.

At last Monday’s (May 1) Qualicum Beach regular council meeting, Coun. Anne Skipsey made a notice of motion to direct staff to make take the first steps to putting together a select committee on housing.

“We’ve heard a lot about this issue. Input from the OCP review steering committee public meeting, comments made at public hearings and council meetings and just from speaking with people at the school or around town,” Skipsey said. “I think we need to find out exactly what it is that is missing and needed in our housing mix in this community.”

In the past several months at Qualicum Beach meetings, residents and employees in the town have stood to speak on their struggles of finding housing suitable for families and within a reasonable price range.

One of those people was Mike Wilson, an employee with Cloudhead Games in Qualicum Beach. He said at the April 24 public hearing on 560/570 Laburnum Rd. he had been looking for a housing in Qualicum Beach for the past two years before finally moving to Parksville.

“I searched in Nanaimo, I searched in Parksville, I searched in Qualicum Beach,” Wilson said. “But I really focused on Qualicum Beach in the last year and a half because I knew our studio was moving here. I’ve been unable to find a house, anything that was suitable just to get into the market after saving for five years. I needed something.”

Wilson is one of a number of Cloudhead Games employees that has had to find housing outside of Qualicum Beach, said company co-founder Tracey Unger.

“Only one of our employees can bike to work,” she said of the 13 employees in the studio.

Unger said in the next two to five years, she and co-founder/husband Denny would like to expand their company to 60 people.

“Our position is that we need the infrastructure here to grow, and so, this is where we’re starting,” Unger said. “Decisions made now on council, regarding housing, directly affect our growth and ability to house our employees.”

Members of the local tech community have been vocal at Qualicum Beach council meetings, asking council to consider approving more developments that could be available to families, especially the development at 560/570 Laburnum Rd. Unger has said one area of savings could be using a standard builders’ package with an option to upgrade, instead of contracting high-end finishings.

At the same time the Laburnum Road development doubled in size to 22 units from 10, Parksville city council gave first reading to a nearly 300-unit development on the corner of Despard Avenue and Alberni Highway. The Parksville development would include a mix of commercial and residential units ranging from multi-unit residences to small-lot, single-family dwellings.

Unger said Qualicum Beach is starting to head in the right direction since residents have voiced their concerns, but she also said everybody — including developers, the municipalities and residents — needs to work together.

“It’s not just the tech community. It’s not just us that’s having a housing problem. You can go online and you can see the need for housing is across the board,” Unger said.

Cheryl Dill, executive director with the Career Centre, said there are two types of people coming into the career centre; people who use the resource room as self-serve, and those who use one-on-one case management.

Dill said the latter group definitely includes people struggling to find housing, adding that one employment consultant said about 50 per cent of job seekers are struggling with the housing issue.

Dill said people need to have a safe base to call home in order to get employment. Dill also said if people are trying to find a job and they can’t show a permanent residence, that could harm the person’s chance of being employed.

“It’s that chicken and egg thing,” she said.

Unger said because of the lack of housing, trying to attract potential employees to the community is a challenge.

“One of those things is we want to boast the ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle for our employees. That’s having the ability to bike to work and live and work in the same city, and currently the infrastructure isn’t there to support that,” said Unger, adding that convincing people to move from the Lower Mainland, which is dealing with the same commuting and housing problem, is a challenge.

“They would still have that here,” Unger said. “They would have to live in Nanaimo to work in Qualicum Beach.”